Around 20 per cent of police time in the UK is spent dealing with mental health issues, over half of deaths following police contact involve people with a mental health issue and people with mental health problems are up to ten times more likely to become victims of crime than the general population.
The problem is that officers are not mental health experts.
The Connect Project, a partnership involving a multi-disciplinary team of our researchers and North Yorkshire Police, aims to tackle this issue by helping officers develop new approaches when they are dealing with people in mental distress.
Launched in 2015, the project has explored the existing systems for dealing with such cases, the legislation underpinning this area of policing, and how the police work with agencies such as the NHS, social workers and charities.
“It was a co-production right from the very beginning,” explains Connect Project leader Professor Martin Smith from our Department of Politics. “Our colleagues at North Yorkshire Police were very up-front about the problems they faced and we worked closely with them to design the project, to examine the evidence, and then to devise an appropriate intervention.”
One of the key outcomes from the project is a training package already delivered to over 200 frontline officers in the North Yorkshire force.
Led by Dr Nicola Moran and Professor Martin Webber from the International Centre for Mental Health Social Work, based in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, the training aims to help officers identify mental vulnerability, record information in a way that helps police respond to future incidents and set out the procedures for referring people to crisis services.
Early feedback is positive and further analysis of the impact of the course is now underway.
Dr Moran, like Professor Smith, is quick to stress the strong co-production relationship built up with North Yorkshire Police.
“It has been a great pleasure to work closely with the police on the project. They have shown great commitment to helping us develop high-quality training and research, and to improve the way the force responds to individuals in mental distress and works with other partners.”
According to Professor Smith, the benefits of the Connect Project have also been felt well beyond the successful delivery of the training course.
“Mental health is obviously a multi-agency issue, and our work has involved bringing the police and the NHS together to try to resolve some of these issues.
“As a result, the whole inter-agency landscape and culture has shifted. The problems involved in inter-agency working have been recognised and the need for agencies to share resources, which is extremely difficult, has been recognised too.
“It’s significant, for example, that the training package devised by Dr Moran was delivered free of charge by mental health professionals from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.”
Once the impact of this first training course has been fully analysed and the results published, the aim is for North Yorkshire Police to roll out the programme to the rest of its officers. After that, Professor Smith plans to work with the College of Policing to explore how similar training could be adopted across the country.
Superintendent Richard Anderson of North Yorkshire Police’s Partnership Hub, said:
“The challenges presented by mental health issues upon society - and hence policing - are enormous. By working in partnership, we have enhanced our understanding of our respective strengths, which has laid the foundations for further research collaborations.
“The police have an enormous amount of data, and academia provides us with an additional means to interpret this to innovate to develop new solutions. This has highlighted opportunities to improve our systems for mutual benefit.”
Inspector Bill Scott, North Yorkshire Police’s lead for mental health, added:
“It’s important to remember that this work has been tailored towards providing our staff with the skills and knowledge to improve the service we provide to our most vulnerable communities. We are keen to roll out this training to the remainder of our staff to augment the significant investment we have already made in improving our response to people with mental vulnerabilities.”
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